that sturdy pioneer John Mayall junior, first rode his velocipede from
London to Brighton in 1869, in much physical discomfort, and left his
two would-be companions behind him in a crippled condition, no one
could have foreseen the days when many thousands of Londoners would
with little effort explore the Home Counties on Saturdays or week-ends,
and ride sixty or seventy miles a day for the mere pleasure of seeking
country lanes and historic spots.
indeed, no more ardent lovers of the country, of scenery, of ancient
hails and churches, of quiet hamlets and historic castles than London
cyclists, who are often, in fact, recruited from the ranks of those
pedestrians who, finding they could by means of the cycle extend their
expeditions in search of the venerable and the beautiful, have cast
away staff and stout walking-boots, and have learnt the nice art of
balancing astride two wheels.
So much accomplished, the ex-pedestrian has at once
widened his radius to at least thrice its former extent, and places
that to him were little known, or merely unmeaning names, have become
suddenly familiar. Even the sea – that far cry to the Londoner – is
within reach of an easy summer day's ride.
Few have anything like an adequate idea of how rich
in beauty and interest is the country comprised roughly in a radius of
from twenty to thirty miles from London. To treat those many miles
thoroughly would require long study and many volumes, and these pages
pretend to do nothing more than dip here and there into the
inexhaustible resources, pictorial and literary, of the hinterland that
lies without the uttermost suburbs.
To have visited Jordans, where the early Quakers
worshipped and are laid to rest; to have entered beneath the roof of
the "pretty cot" at Chalfont St. Giles that sheltered Milton; to have
seen with one's own eyes Penshurst, the home of the Sidneys, and
Chenies, the resting-place of the Russells; to have meditated beneath
the "yew tree's shade" at Stoke Poges; to have seen or done all these
things is to have done much to educate one's self in the historic
resources of the much-talked-of but little-known countryside. The
King's Stone in Kingston market-place, Cæsar's Well on Keston Common,
the "Town Hall" at Gatton, the Pilgrims' Way under the lee of the North
Downs, and the monumental brasses of the D'Abernons at Stoke D'Abernon
have each and all their engrossing interest; or, if you think them to
savour too greatly of the dry-as-dust studies of the antiquary, there
remain for you the quaint old inns, the sleepy hamlets and the
tributary rivers of the Thames, all putting forth a never-failing charm
when May has come, and with it the sunshine, the leaves and flowers,
and the song of the birds.
CHARLES G. HARPER.
PETERSHAM, SURREY, April, 1902.
Chenies and the Milton Country
Surbiton to Leatherhead
Ightham Mote and the Vale of Medway
The Darenth and the Grays
Croydon to Knockholt Beeches and the Kentish Commons
In Old-World Essex
Among the Essex Hills
Abinger, Leith Hill, and Dorking
Ripley and the Surrey Commons
Under the North Downs
The Suburban Thames
The Southern Suburbs: Kingston to Ewell, Warlingham, and Croydon
Ewell to Merstham, Godstone, and Lingfield
Hever Castle, Penshurst, and Tonbridge
To Stoke Poges and Burnham Beeches
Dartford to Rochester, Aylesford, and Borough Green
Middlesex and Hertfordshire Byways
The Back Way to Brighton
Barking to Southend and Sheppey
The Old Lychgate, Penshurst
Milton's Cottage, Chalfont St. Giles
Jesus Hospital, Bray
Esher Old Church
Brass to Sir John D'Abernon
The Hall, Slyfield House
The "Running Horse"
Sign of the "Running Horse"
Sign of the "Sir Jeffrey Amherst"
The Courtyard, Ightham Mote
The Dumb Borsholder
The Quintain, Offham
The Waterside, Erith
On the Thames, near Erith
Purfleet, from the Darenth Meadows
The Fool's Cap Crest of Sir John Spielman
The Little Church of Woldingham
The Stocks, Havering-atte-Bower
Two Churches in one Churchyard
Ewell Old Church Tower
The Little Church of Perivale
A Mysterious Monument
The Little Church of Wotton
An Old Weir on the Wey
The Guildhall and High Street, Guildford
The Seven-Dials Pillar, Weybridge
The Ruins, Virginia Water
The "Town Hall," Gatton
The Hollow Road, Nutfield
An Iron Tomb-Slab
The Ancient Yew, Crowhurst
The Gatehouse, Hever Castle
Sunset on the Eden
A Crest of the Sidneys
Shoeing Forge, Penshurst
The "Bicycle Window," Stoke Poges
At Burnham Beeches
Early English Doorway, Stone Church
Interior, Stone Church
High Street, Rochester
The Church Bell, Shenley
The North Downs and Marden Park
The "Sackville Lodging," East Grinstead
Within this circuit of just upon thirty miles much that is characteristic of Kent, the "Garden of England," is to be found; much that is busily commercial, a goodly proportion of beautiful, unfrequented country, old-world villages on unspoiled stretches of river, and other villages with many mills polluting the Darenth on its way to the turbid Thames. Kent, in short, is a very varied county, growing fruit and hops, and, by reason of its waterways and its nearness to London, dotted over with factories; and this district here mapped out is a very good exemplar of the whole. Erith, which may be made the starting-point of this ride, is an interesting place, overlooking the Thames, here half a mile wide and crowded with all kinds of shipping; a tarry, long-shore, semi-nautical village – or town, should it be called? – with a crazy little wooden pier boasting a picturesque summer-house kind of building at its end, and with a puffing engine of a miniature kind noisily playing at trains along it all day long, and performing mysterious shunting operations in collusion with a few lilliputian trucks. Engine and trucks to the contrary and notwithstanding, Erith is very delightfully behind the times, and is much more in accord with the days of Nelson and Dibdin and the era of tar and hemp than with our own period. Romantically decayed defences against the inroads of the Thames bristle along the foreshore, like so many black and broken teeth; over across the estuary is the Essex shore, and here, at the back, at Purfleet, are, actually, chalk cliffs, giving place along the course of the river to marshes. "R.T.Y.C." is the legend one reads on the jerseys of many prosperous-looking sailormen lounging here, for Erith is the headquarters of the Royal Thames Yachting Club.
The two miles between Erith and Crayford need detain no one. Half the distance is an ascent, and the rest goes steeply down to the valley of the Cray, where Crayford, the first of the series of villages whose names derive from that little stream, is situated. With all the good-will in the world it is difficult, if not impossible, to say anything in favour of Crayford, which appears to afford congenial harbourage to all the tramps who pervade that peculiarly tramp-infested highway, the Dover road. "A townlet of slums" sums up the place. But note the long rhyming epitaph to Peter Isnell, parish clerk, on the south side of the hilltop church:-
"The life of this clerk was just threescore and ten,
Nearly half of which time he had sung out 'Amen!'
In his youth he was married, like other young men,
But his wife died one day, so he chanted 'Amen!'"
and so forth.
The first turning out of the dusty high road to the right, and then to the left, for Bexley (not Bexley Heath, which is quite another and a very squalid place) leads to a pleasant road following the river. From it, on the left hand, within a mile, a glimpse is gained of Hall Place, a beautiful old Tudor mansion built in chequers of stone and flint. An excellent view of it may be had by dismounting and looking through the wrought-iron entrance gates. Then comes the long street of Bexley and its curious spire, and a brick bridge by which we cross the Cray, turning sharply to the left, and soon afterwards as sharply to the right. Very pretty is the river scenery just by Bexley Bridge; millhouse and weir and tall clustered trees making a rare picture. North Cray, the next village of The Crays, as the group is locally known, is one mile ahead.
Before entering it notice the long avenue on the left leading to Mount Mascal, and then the lengthy, low white house on the right at the beginning of the village. This is the house where Lord Castlereagh committed suicide in 1822. At the interval of another mile is Foot's Cray, where the road from Farningham to Sidcup, Eltham, and London crosses our route at right angles. The village chiefly lies at the side, along the London road, and the unpretending old church at the back.
A short interval of country road, and then the outlying houses of St. Paul's Cray, which, with the adjoining town of St. Mary Cray, forms one long street for the length of over a mile and a half, or, including Orpington, which practically joins on, of more than two miles and a half. They make paper on a large scale at St. Paul's and St. Mary Cray, and the mills are very prominent objects. Much too prominent at St. Mary Cray is a hideous Congregational temple with a verdigris-coloured dome, and just as prominent and as ugly is the railway viaduct that straddles at a great height over the absurdly narrow street.
Orpington was the scene of the publication of Ruskin's works during a long series of years before they were published in the usual way in London. It is a pretty village, with an Early English church, a tree-shaded wayside pond with miniature waterfalls, and a general air of "something attempted, something done" to realise Ruskinian ideals. A mile and a half beyond Orpington we come down to the cross-roads leading, right to Farnborough, and left to Sevenoaks. In front, on its hillside, is a great red brick house. This is High Elms, Sir John Lubbock's place. Turning to the left, we reach the hamlet of Green Street Green, and then, in another mile, Pratt's Bottom, There is a continual four miles and a quarter ascent from here to the crown of Sepham Hill (or Polhill, as it is now generally called) to give the wheelman pause, and to make him wish he had come the other way round. From the Polhill Arms at the summit the average touring cyclist will observe that he has rather a nerve-shaking descent to make, judging from the elevated position he has reached and from the little world of landscape unfolded before him. Caution and a good rim-brake, to keep control over the machine, are, however, all that are necessary, even though the descent be winding. A tree-covered bank on the right hand, flanking the hill with a certain solemnity, would be more impressive still to the cyclist did he know that this is the site of one of the great circle of forts now building for the defence of London. But the stranger is not cognisant of the fact, and so, unhappily, misses a patriotic thrill in passing.
Continuing the wooded descent towards the Weald, look out for a road on the left leading to Otford, a steep and stony mile and a half. Here, intrepid adventurers that we are, we have crossed the watershed and achieved the valley of the Darenth. Otford was the site of one of the sixteen palaces of the Archbishops of Canterbury. It was built just before the Reformation, by Archbishop Warham, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, and resigned by Cranmer to that very masterful monarch. The ruins of it are still to be seen by the church.
Leaving Otford, turn to the left at the cross-roads, and so, beside the railway, to Shoreham Station. The village lies on a by-road to the left. They make paper there also. It was the birthplace of that not sufficiently appreciated African explorer, Commander Lovett-Cameron, untimely dead. In the church are the flags he carried with him on the Livingstone search expedition. Like "Bobs" – who, according to Mr. Kipling, "don't advertise" – Lovett-Cameron cared nothing for the réclame that makes reputations with the many-headed; unlike him, he missed his proper meed of recognition.
The valley of the Darenth here is very beautiful, and the river at Shoreham expands into the likeness of a great lake. Here is a choice of routes: direct, beside the railway, to Eynesford, or through Shoreham to Eynesford by way of Shoreham Castle and Lullingstone. There is little to choose either way, because the "castle" at Shoreham exists no longer, and Lullingstone Park is forbidden to cyclists. Let us reserve our enthusiasm for Eynesford, an old English village of truly Elizabethan spaciousness, set down in its valley beside the Darenth, with an ancient, eminently sketchable and paintable old bridge spanning the ford that originally conferred the termination of the place-name; with a highly interesting Norman and Early English church, with lofty spire dominating the scene; and with a ruined castle tucked away in a builder's yard. Little stress need be laid upon Eynesford Castle, because it is now, in short, only a little piece of rubble wall, and therefore to be taken very largely on trust. But the village – to recur to it – is a very beautiful and aesthetically satisfying fact.
Farningham, to which we come after Eynesford, is only moderately interesting. Also, for the benefit of those who may follow in these tracks, it may be noted that it is in a hop-growing district, and when the hop-pickers are let loose upon it the society is not of the choicest. The village lies on the left-hand road; we pursue our way to Horton Kirby, where are more mills and crooked streets, and thence to South Darenth, where there are many factories and curving roads. Turn acutely (and warily) to the left, and, crossing the river, make for Sutton-at-Hone. Darenth lies off to the right. The church is Norman and Early English, and the walls have a plentiful admixture of Roman tiles. See the church, by all means, but do not take that way to Dartford. Return to the point where the road was left, and go by way of the hamlet of Hawley.
Dartford is a town of flour-mills, paper-mills, powder-mills, and factories where they make chemicals and compound drugs. They do not smoke, these great commercial structures, for the most part, but are cleanly, white-painted, boarded structures that find their motive power in the waters of the Darenth. Here is the traditional home of paper-making in England, for it was at Dartford, in the reign of Elizabeth, that John Spielman, a settler on these shores from Lindau, in Germany, introduced the process. Not only that, but he was granted the sole licence for a period often years of collecting rags for the making of his paper withal. If you step into the quaint old church of Dartford, you will see, so soon as your eyes become accustomed to the gloom of that crepuscular interior, his tomb with the effigies of himself and his wife, together with shields of arms bearing the fool's cap, said to have been his crest, and certainly the original watermark of the particular size of paper which from that circumstance has acquired the name. There are many things for the stranger to see at Dartford; among them the Bull Inn, one of the very few remaining of the old galleried coaching inns, with its sign, the great black effigy of a bull, aloft among the chimney-stalks, a most whimsical position. It was on Dartford Green, opposite this old house, that Wat Tyler dashed out the brains of the tax-gatherer who had insulted his daughter. There is no Green now – only a narrow, dingy street; and there are those who would have you believe that Wat Tyler is a myth; that there never was such a man, and that consequently there was no daughter, and no tax-collector whose brains were so summarily scattered. But let us keep our illusions, O scientific historians!
From Dartford to Crayford Station is two miles. Let those who will, cycle the dusty high road to complete the circle; but Dartford Station will serve as well, or better, for returning to town.
Few cyclists know how old-world the neglected county of Essex really is. So unknown is this part of eastern England that its ill-earned reputation for flatness and want of interest has lasted since the first guide-book writer made the initial mis-statement until the present day. A great gulf separates the West-Ender and the Central Londoner from Essex; a gulf filled with crowded streets and rendered dangerous to the cyclist by the granite setts and tram-lines that characterise the main roads leading from Whitechapel to Bow, Stratford, Ilford, and Romford, beyond which last town only can the country be said to commence. Nor do railways afford so ready a means of intercourse between east and west as could be desired. For the sake, however, of seeing what kind of country this may be, let us, greatly daring, get on to the Great Eastern Railway at Liverpool Street, and take train to Chadwell Heath, following the course indicated by the sketch map. This gives a run of a little over twenty miles, and shows Essex in its most characteristic vein.
Gaining the main road to Romford from Chadwell Heath Station, we follow it for three-quarters of a mile, turning off to the left where a sign-post points the way to Havering-atte-Bower, along a good-surfaced, sandy lane. Here we come immediately to pretty, pastoral country, with spreading views in every direction across the many-patterned fields. Away, four miles to the left, on its striking hillside, is Claybury, the towers of its asylum rubricated in the warm glow of the afternoon sun until they take on a glory like that of a New Jerusalem. Along the road one comes to an old red brick barn, and then to the first of the many old Essex wooden windmills. A gentle rise leads up to the small hamlet of Collier Row, and thence the road goes uphill all the way to Havering, turning to the left at a point duly sign-posted. This is the first taste of the Essex hills. Notice, as you ascend, a red brick house in a park on the right hand. This is the so-called Bower House, the comparatively modern successor of the palace built by Edward the Confessor. Here, in the surrounding park, it was, according to the tradition, that the saintly king, disturbed in his orisons by the song of the nightingales, prayed that they might never sing again at Havering; and so it is (quite incorrectly) said that, even now, the nightingale is a stranger to the surrounding woods. The legend, true or not, does not raise our opinion of the Confessor. Does not the poet finely say, "He prayeth best who loveth best all things, both great and small"?
Although Havering has a long, long history as a royal domain and as the dower-house of queens, little or nothing is left to show the tourist its former importance, A few mounds near the rebuilt and uninteresting church alone bespeak the site of the palace.
As you come up the hill to the tiny village and turn to the left by an ancient elm, whose hollow trunk has been bricked up to help preserve it, notice the old stocks on the green, designed for the accommodation of two. Down a gently sloping road, take the first turning to the right after passing the entrance to Pyrgo Park, and then the first to the right again and past a red brick chapel. Two miles and a half along a pleasant, sandy lane, and then the way divides left and right, beside a pond. Across a broad common, away to the right, are seen the houses of Navestock village; but the church lies half a mile onward, down the left-hand road. This is one of the most curious and one of the most prettily-situated churches in Essex, standing on a hilltop and surmounted by groups of graceful wych elms, with the waters of a broad lake, belonging to an adjoining park, seen beyond. Essex is a county entirely devoid of building-stone, and this fact very largely influenced the building of its ancient churches, erected as they were in times when to bring stone from great distances was practically impossible. Flint, being found locally, was often made use of; but the county having practically been one vast forest, timber was the readiest building material, and so we find wood entering largely into the construction of many Essex churches. That of Navestock is an instance, and here it is the tower that is timbered. Massive oak beams form the framing, and are as perfect now as they were when originally erected, over four hundred years ago. The white-painted, weather-boarded exterior is, of course, more recent. The whole is surmounted by a slender shingled spire, and the effect is remarkably like that of a Norwegian church. Patched and altered by many succeeding generations since its first Norman and Early English days, the body of the building is of many styles; and it is plain to see, from the fragments of Norman mouldings and the blocked-up Early English lancets, how utterly without reverence were the old men for the work of their forebears. In the Decorated and Perpendicular periods they inserted the lovely traceried windows whose mouldering mullions yet remain, and in order to do so they cut away without the slightest compunction the narrow slits of the Norman window-openings that merely rendered the darkness of the interior more apparent, and did the same by the larger but still inadequate Early English lights. Inadequate, that is to say, for lighting the building; and it was just for this practical purpose that the men of later periods ruthlessly swept the original work away. That their own work was in the highest degree artistic is but an accident; but this should afford no excuse to the purists among restorers, who have wrought the most widespread havoc in old churches like this by "restoring" buildings to the one uniform style in which they were originally built, and tearing down the traces of all the intervening periods, which, besides being worthy of preservation for their artistry, are really an integral part of the history of such old structures. It is to be hoped that the restorer will not be allowed to wreak his will upon Navestock Church.
Retracing our course from here, and going up the road by which we came, the way to Kelvedon Hatch – or Kelvedon Common, as it is sometimes called – lies up a steep and stony, but happily short, rise, succeeded by one of those prettily-wooded winding lanes so characteristic of Essex, with sunlit peeps between the trees of sloping fields, golden-yellow with waving corn. Very much has been heard of late years of agricultural depression in Essex, and of the impossibility of growing wheat at a profit anywhere in England; but they either achieve the impossible here, or else (a thing inconceivable in a farmer) they grow wheat for the mere pleasure of seeing it grow. As a matter of fact, there is probably more wheat grown in Essex to-day than in any other county of its size.
In one mile, take a turning to the right, then the first to the left, and then the next two turnings to the right again, bringing the explorer to the scattered village of Kelvedon Hatch, a thoroughly Essex village, with the weather-boarded cottages and projecting red brick chimney-breasts you will find scarce anywhere else than in this county. Make straight through the long, flat village street, and then to the left, where a sign-post marks the way to Blackmore. In something like half a mile down this turning, notice the old stocks at "Stocks Corner," where a sign-post points right for Doddinghurst. Do not turn here, but continue ahead until a post is observed indicating the road to Blackmore to be down a turning to the left. In about two miles from here, when you have been wheeling along a country lane until Blackmore appears to be unattainable, and you have almost given up all hopes of finding it, the spire of the village church is glimpsed across the meadows to the right, and a pretty and easy run leads into the street of this exceedingly beautiful and old-world place.
At Navestock we saw one of the Essex timbered belfries, but at Blackmore we discover the finest example in the county, three-staged, and a very forest of timbering within. A fine old red brick mansion facing the churchyard is known as "Jericho," and, although its appearance was greatly altered in the time of Queen Anne, really dates back to the days of Henry the Eighth, whose secret retreat it was. Here that Sultan carried on an intrigue with Lady Elizabeth Talbois, who gave birth in 1519 to a son, named Henry Fitzroy, created by his royal father Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Had that son lived, we should doubtless have possessed one more great peerage, left-handedly descended from Royalty, to keep company with those of the Duke of St. Albans, the Duke of Grafton, the Duke of Richmond, the Earl of Munster, and others. But he died, in his seventeenth year, in 1536.
The Court was pretty accurately informed of the King's whereabouts on those occasions when he secretly visited Blackmore, and whispered that he had "gone to Jericho," There is, indeed, little doubt of that well-known phrase having originated in this manner. A stream running through the village is still called the Jordan.
Leaving Blackmore for the twin villages of Willingale Spain and Willingale Doe, cross the road at Blackmore, and, turning to the left, pursue a level course along a country road until reaching a solitary fork, which, of course, being solitary and puzzling, has no sign-post.
The right-hand fork looks the most likely, but it is the left, as a matter of fact, that should be taken. This leads past a hamlet where the sign-post vouchsafes a whole gazetteer-full of information; after which, in half a mile, turn to the right (the left turning lands you in a farmyard, and into a duck-pond, very green and slimy). Then a horribly loose, dusty, and stony stretch for a mile, and, turning left, the two churches of Willingale Spain and Willingale Doe are seen, standing in one churchyard. An absurd legend tells how they were built by two sisters who could not agree as to the style of a church they had proposed to build between them. One losing patience and saying that she would build a church of her own, the other is supposed to have answered, "If you're willing, girl, do!" History, however, disproves this ridiculous story and tells us that Willingale Doe obtained its second name from the old lords of the manor, the family of D'Ou.
There is a curious epitaph in Willingale Spain churchyard to one Charles Davis, who was killed in his thirty-eighth year "by a fall from the elm tree near which he is buried," as the inscription says. He lies, indeed, under the shadow of it.
But this is not the only thing worth note, for, just within the little doorway that leads into the chancel of Willingale Spain Church, may be noticed on the floor a curious monumental brass to Isaac Kello, who died, aged nine years, in 1614, "son to Mr. Bartholomew Kello, Minister of Christ's Evangell"
"This godly child knew his Originall
And though right young, did scorn base cells of earth,
His soule doth Flourish in Heaven's Glistering Hall
Because it is a divine plant by birth."
It is not very easy to discover precisely what Mr. Bartholomew Kello, who presumably wrote this, meant by it, but its general tone sounds pathetic enough.
From here a winding lane leads to Fyfield, whose rector has earned some notice by holding cyclists' parades and by entertaining passing wheelmen. Thence to Chipping Ongar it is an excellent road. From here it will be convenient to take train back to London; first, however, paying a visit to Greenstead Church, a short distance beyond the town, to the right of the road. It lies at the end of a long avenue, and is remarkable for the walls of its nave being constructed of the trunks of oak trees, set upright. The exterior still exhibits the rude rounded surface of the original trunks, worn and furrowed by time; while the adze-marks by which the inner sides have been planed down to something like a flat surface are still visible, although the work dates back to Saxon times. When the church was restored in 1848 the decayed lower portions of these trunks were cut off – five inches of those forming the south wall, and one inch from those on the north side – and the rest preserved by being placed on a brick sill built to the ground level. At the same time the logs were tongued together with strips of oak to prevent dampness penetrating to the church.
The chancel is of late Perpendicular date, and is of red brick; but the body of the church remains an eloquent survival of the ancient steading in a clearing of the green woods that once spread densely over old-world Essex.
The church is dedicated to that most famous of all East Anglian saints, St. Edmund the King and Martyr, who was seized by the Danes in the year 871 at Hoxne, and on his refusing to renounce Christianity, bound by them to an oak, and shot to death with arrows. And not only is it so dedicated, but it owes its very existence, in a curious way, to him; having been originally built as a temporary shrine of logs for his body to lie in on the journey, when it was transferred to London from its gorgeous shrine at Bury St. Edmunds during the troubled years immediately preceding the Conquest. A fragment of stained glass, with a crowned head pictured on it, is let into a little window in the weather-boarded tower, and a portion of the ancient Hoxne oak is preserved at the Rectory, where there is an old painting representing him. It is a singular coincidence that the oak – St. Edmund's Oak, as it was named – fell at the very time in 1848 when the little church was being restored. The absolute truth of the legend was proved by an ancient arrowhead being discovered almost in the heart of the famous tree.
So wooded are these lofty hills, so rustic their every bend and fold, and of so wondrous a fertility their bounteous soil, that, were it not for the established fact of mere distance from London lending the west country an additional charm, one would dare to compare this district with South Devon itself. Its actual merits are equal; its distance from town less than thirty miles, as compared with two hundred. But beyond compare are its old cottages, the red brick and timbered farmsteads, and the ancient manor-houses of this corner of Surrey, whose ruddy walls, or green and lichened roofs, exercise the palettes and the pencils of artists innumerable. Surrey farmhouses have their likeness nowhere else, and in no other county shall you seek with equal certainty of success these characteristics, or those clustered chimneys that make every humble home of these valley roads and sequestered by-lanes an old-world mansion, dignified and reposeful.
It could be very persuasively argued, if need were, à propos of the title of this paper, that no one should climb hills if he would keep a proper respect for them. Let the valleys be easefully pedalled and exertion saved, and the fine sense of mystery and the illimitable which hilltops give, whether wreathed in mists or bathed in sunlight, be at the same time preserved. When you climb a hill you know its limits. You know, as a result of your exploration, every minor feature of it, and thus, fully informed, have of necessity something of that contempt engendered by familiarity. Thus are the easefully inclined excused of their easefulness. Not for such the toilsome climb – to discover that the grass of the hilltop is merely the grass of the valley, only of less luxuriant growth. "All is vanity and vexation of spirit," said the Preacher. He had probably climbed the hill-tops and become disillusioned. Thus it is to be an explorer! Why, even those stalwarts who have climbed Parnassus have found the empyrean something too thin, and the grass of those heights not so much rare as rank. Happy, then, those who are content with the level lands, and regard the uplands from that safe and comfortable vantage-point. They keep their illusions, and if they be imaginative there is no reason why lions and tigers, eagles and other fearful wild-fowl, should not inhabit the North Downs, instead of the rabbits and the song-birds that reward the explorer's gaze.
The readiest way to reach this district is by train to Redhill Junction; not that anyone would resort to that modern town – that bald and artless creation of railway times – for any interest attaching to it, but its position makes it the key to a lovely stretch of country.
It is a charmingly happy circumstance that the southern face of the North Downs is followed for many miles – indeed, along the whole extent of that noble range, from Maidstone to Guildford and Farnham – by splendid roads, reasonably level, good, and direct. Those roads are traced in great measure in other pages of this book; let our route now lie from Redhill to Guildford.
From the grim cluster of asylums, reformatories, and industrial schools at Redhill, one finds solace presently at Reigate, where houses of from sixteenth to late eighteenth century date abound. It is a town typical of the coaching age, to which it owed its eighteenth-century prosperity, and is built in characteristic red brick. Thence to Reigate Heath, on whose fine breezy expanse the curious may discover that prime curiosity, the "Windmill Church." The old windmill thus converted into a church nearly a quarter of a century ago has a curious history. Now a chapel-of-ease to Reigate, under the style of the "Chapel of Holy Cross," the first service was conducted on the 14th of September 1880, and has been continued regularly on every Sunday since. The reason for this singular conversion was purely sentimental, the mill standing on the site of one of four ancient wayside oratories established for the use of pilgrims in days when this, the Pilgrims' road from Southampton to Winchester and Canterbury, was largely travelled. One of the oratories became a prison, another suffered a transformation into a house attached to pleasure-grounds, and the Chapel of Holy Cross became a windmill. The original building, built for worship and used for milling, has long disappeared, and the present one, built as a mill and now used as a church, took its place. No attempt has been made to alter the character of the interior, whose oddly timbered circular space is simply fitted with altar, rush-bottomed chairs, and cocoa-nut matting, the great beams painted and here and there stencilled with ecclesiastical designs. A rental of one shilling a year is paid for the use of the building to Lady Henry Somerset.
All the way from Reigate Heath to Buckland the North Downs are seen going in a procession to the right, beneath them nowadays springing up the country homes of a generation that loves scenery and can scarce understand why our grandfathers did not appreciate it. Thoroughly typical of the old time was Captain Morris, author of those town-loving lines:-
"In town let me live, then; in town let me die;
For no, I can't relish the country, not I.
If one must have a cottage in summer to dwell,
O give me the sweet shady side of Pall Mall."
His aspiration was denied him, for that eighteenth-century Anacreon died here at Brockham.
A solemn row of immemorial yews along the shoulders of the hills marks where the sandalled feet of pilgrims trod the Pilgrims' Way. At Buckland a pond, a sign-post, a tall elm, and a church that looks like a barn, and a barn that looks like a church, make up a very pretty picture. Betchworth lies to the left hand, a mile onward, and possesses some stately old houses. To it succeeds Dorking.
Now Dorking, if you can conceive the conjunction, is at once aristocratic and popular. The proximity of that Cockney pleasance, Box Hill, is, of course, responsible for the one, and doubtless the overawing neighbourhood of Denbies and Deepdene accounts for the other. Dorking is celebrated for a mythical battle, for a breed of fowls, and for having been the home of Tony Weller, who kept the "Markis o' Granby" here. The name of the place was invariably spelt "Darking" a hundred years ago, even by literary folks, and country people still pronounce it in that way. It is a supremely cheerful town, with a very wide High Street.
Beyond the town the North Downs assume a wilder and more wooded aspect, where the modern but pretty hamlet of Westcott stands by the way, and the deep valley and heavy woodlands of Wotton open out delightfully upon the wayfarer. In the "little church of Wotton" – pronounced "Wootton" – lies John Evelyn, the Diarist and lover of trees, with many other Evelyns, and Wotton Park is just beyond, where many trees of his planting yet flourish. Wotton Hatch, a lonely hamlet, overlooks the scene.
At Abinger Hammer and Gomshall, the trickling streams that have followed the valley are dammed up into "hammer ponds," where, "once upon a time," iron was forged. But it is nearly two hundred years since the last furnace was blown out and the final hammer rang upon the ultimate anvil at Abinger. The days when iron-ore was dug and smelted in Kent, Sussex, and Surrey are long forgot.
Shere succeeds to Gomshall in half a mile. Shere and picturesqueness are synonymous and interchangeable terms; a place composed of a narrow street with queer cottages all tumbled together, as though for warmth, or as if land were scarce and dear.
Now, along a winding but excellent road, we come to Albury; the famous "Silent Pool" lying a little way off to the right, on a fork of the road leading to Newlands Corner. It was the egregious Martin Tupper who made the "Silent Pool" famous, but, truth to tell, it is but a pretty lakelet, whose real name was Sherbourne Pond. Its remarkably clear waters swarm with trout, whose extraordinary tameness is perhaps due to the many visitors, who feed them for the pleasure of seeing them spring out of the water for their food.
Coming to Albury, we enter upon the loveliest section of the whole journey. The long, scattered village, with picturesque old houses and modern cottages, built with rare good taste, leads to Albury Park, the Surrey home of the Duke of Northumberland. The partly ruined church in the park, with the modern Irvingite transept and the curiously domed roof of the central tower, is worth seeing and sketching, as also is the romantically situated St. Martha's Chapel, crowning one of the most conspicuous hills of the North Downs.
"St. Martha's" Chapel may really have been "sancti martyris" originally, and dedicated to the "holy blisful martyr," St. Thomas of Canterbury. It was built in the late twelfth century and was a chapel on the old Pilgrims' Way. The corruption of the name into "St. Martha's" can readily be understood.
On the way to Chilworth, Postford Ponds skirt the roadside and form a pretty grouping of water, woodlands, and old farmhouses, with St. Martha's in the distance. Chilworth, whose not very accessible parish church St. Martha's Chapel is, lies on the little stream that forms this chain of ponds. But hear what old Cobbett says: "This valley, which seems to have been created by a bountiful Providence as one of the choicest retreats of man, which seems formed for a scene of innocence and happiness, has been, by ungrateful man, so perverted as to make it instrumental in effecting two of the most damnable of purposes; in carrying into execution two of the most damnable inventions that ever sprang from the mind of man under the influence of the Devil! namely, the making of gunpowder and of banknotes." The banknotes are no longer made at Chilworth, but the manufacture of "villainous saltpetre" still proceeds.
To Chilworth succeeds the wide common of Shalford, leading close by the winding Wey to Guildford town. Here that little river, evidently not so little, ages ago, has cut a deep cleft through the immense rampart of the North Downs, so that the road to the town is quite deeply recessed in a valley, and flat.
Do you know Guildford, and yet not love it – its quaint High Street, the steepest, they say, in all England, built along the slope of this cleft made by the Wey; its churches. Abbot's Hospital, and that quaintest and most curious of old buildings, the Guildhall?
They do not build Guildhalls of this kind to-day, the architects who are called in to design such things. Perhaps they are not allowed. Nor are they called Guildhalls. "Perish the name!" say in effect the upstart towns of this expansive era, and nothing will serve their turn but "Municipal Buildings." We know the Municipal Building order of architecture, and, sooth to say, we do not like it, whether it be named Classic or Victorian Renaissance, or labelled in any other style intended to cloak poverty of design and display a crazy patchwork of priggish eclecticism.
Compared with the frowning Keep of Guildford, the Guildhall is, of course, the merest parvenu, having been built in 1683, two years before Monmouth was dragged up to execution on Tower Hill after Sedgemoor fight. But the old Norman tower is four-square and stern, with only the picturesqueness that historic association can find; while the belfried turret of the Guildhall, and its boldly projecting clock, impending massively over the pavement of the High Street, are the pride of the eye and a delight to the artistic sense of all them that love their like.
Leaving Guildford's picturesque High Street by one of the retiring thoroughfares branching from it on the north side, past that most sketchable of Guildhalls, we come, in something less than a mile, to a crossing of the Wey, and so to a hillside parting of the roads. Here we take the left-hand turning, to the secluded hamlet of Wood Street, whence roads and lanes in plenty – some straight, many devious – lead to that hamlet of "Normandy" where, in 1835, William Cobbett died. If it be true that William the First "loved the red deer like a father," it may be said with at least equal appropriateness that Cobbett had as great a love for trees. Here, at oddly named Normandy, he oscillated between the equally congenial occupations of harrying a political opponent and of creating plantations, and many of the saplings he planted with his own hands are now grown up to form the woodlands that clothe this countryside.
It was well for Cobbett's peace of mind that Aldershot Camp, the signs of whose neighbourhood now begin to be evident on our way to Ash and Farnham, had not come into being while he still lived; for, soldier though he had been, and a characteristically independent and sturdy one, he grew to hate the military, and never missed an opportunity of venting his apocalyptic wrath upon the Army. Did he live now, he would find plenty opportunities here, and around his birthplace at Farnham; for the presence of the redcoats – and the blue, the grey, the green, and the khaki coats too – is very much in evidence, alike on the road and on the surface of the road, cruelly cut up by ammunition waggons and guns.
And so through crooked-streeted Ash, with its public-houses dedicated to military commanders distinguished and heroic, or merely Royal, and the stores and the shops showing the unromantic and domestic side of the soldier's life, which, and not glory, is nearly the whole of Tommy Atkins's existence, varied with dusty and inglorious drills in gritty barrack-yards and field-days in the Sahara-like Long Valley.
The neighbourhood of Aldershot and its camp is highly interesting to those who take an interest in soldiering (and most feel an attraction that way), but it is utterly destructive of the picturesque.
A mile beyond Ash we cross insensibly from Surrey into Hampshire,' and in another mile back again, owing, not to any vagary in the road, an eminently and respectably straight highway, but to the serpentine and elusive character of the county boundary. And thus – through unsponsored new hamlets, the sporadic but unacknowledged offshoots of Aldershot, sprawling yonder across the sandy wastes – to the tail of the Hog's Back, whose bristles are the larches and firs of this heathy country.
The right-hand way, at the junction of the roads, leads into Farnham, "rather better," as the country people say, than a mile off. It is conceivable that, at the end of a long day, this might appear to be "rather worse." Farnham remains itself still, despite its near military neighbour, a quietly prosperous old town, with a long east to west street, and a short and broad one in the middle of the town, running north to the Castle, and beyond it to a very welter of firs and sands. Farnham Castle yet gives its tone to Farnham, for it is still – as it has been for nearly eight hundred years – the residence of the Bishops of Winchester; although, to be sure, the Bishops cut a very small figure nowadays beside that soldier-statesman-churchman, Henry of Blois, who originally built the fortress. Farnham is appropriately sedate and decorous. The ruined Keep is here, in its pretty garden shaded by ancient cedars, and there are a few vestiges of antiquity within the great range of buildings; but very few, for the restorations by Bishop Morlcy in the late seventeenth century, and those of recent years, have preserved the place as a residence at the expense of archaeology. Even so, the picture made by the long and varied front looking down upon Farnham and seeming to block the street, is very grand.
Away on the other side of the main street is the church; the churchyard a place of pilgrimage for the sake of Cobbett, that ardent reformer who frothed at the mouth with political denunciations for forty years, and now lies beneath a closely railed-in altar-tomb on the north side. A more cheerful resort is his birthplace, a very old gabled house, now the "Jolly Farmer Inn," facing a bridge across the Wey, in Abbey Street.
He was born in 1762; and almost alone, perhaps, among the places with which he was familiar, the house is unchanged.
It is past the railway station that one leaves Farnham for Waverley Abbey. Signs of the hop-growing industry of which this town is a centre are evident to sight and smell in early days of autumn, for then are rumbling carts laden with fat sacks ("pockets," they call them) of fragrant hops met with at every turn, and the scent of them produces the most furious appetite.
After passing the level crossing take the left-hand road, which leads to Waverley in under two miles, with Moor Park on the left, once the seat of Sir William Temple, the patron of Swift, the "eccentric, uncouth, disagreeable young Irishman" who was that retired statesman's secretary. How little dignified was the post above that of a lackey may be judged from the flirtation Swift began in the servants' hall with Lady Giffard's waiting-maid, a flirtation "which," says Macaulay, "was to be as widely famed as the passion of Petrarch or of Abelard." The waiting-maid was "Stella," and the poor secretary became that terrible genius, Dean Swift.
The park, rugged and impressive, with sombre conifers, is traversed by the Wey. Under a sundial before the house is buried the heart of Sir William Temple, the former owner of the place, at his own request, in a silver box; and at the other end of this domain is that celebrated cavern, "Mother Ludlam's Hole," a cave containing a spring, now railed off from vulgar profanation by an ornamental iron railing. It was here that the brethren of Waverley Abbey, it is thought, found the source of their drinking water. "Mother Ludlam" was a chimerical personage of the Robin Goodfellow type, who, according to the superstitious peasantry, supplied suppliants with any article they might require, on their repairing to her cave at the stroke of midnight, turning round thrice, and three times repeating the request; promising to return the borrowed article in two days. The next morning the object wished for would be found outside the mouth of the cavern. This beneficent personage at last lent a cauldron to some ill-principled person or another who forgot to return it, and since then the charm has ceased to work. The proof of this story lies in the fact that the cauldron is to be seen to this day, preserved in the vestry of Frensham Church; a fact, of course, conclusive!
A pretty, rose-entwined cottage by the entrance to Moor Park still goes by the name of "Stella's," and opposite, on the right hand of the road, is the lodge gate leading to the grounds of Waverley Abbey, whose scanty ruins stand in a flat meadow beside the river Wey, within sight of dark, pine-clad Crooksbury Hill. The river describes three parts of a circle around these crumbling walls, the poor relics of the first Cistercian Abbey in England. There is, indeed, more left of the Abbey underground than above, for the crypt remains perfect.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this spot is intangible, and lies in the fact that the title of the Waverley novels derives from these ruined walls, Scott having read those still-existing records of this religious brotherhood, – the "Annales Waverlienses," – and having been impressed with the musical sound of the name.
Leaving the grounds of Waverley Abbey, the dark, pine-clad mass of Crooksbury Hill lies ahead, and must be climbed to reach Scale and the neighbouring villages that lie down below its northern shoulder, and under the lee of that ten miles' stretch of the North Downs, from Guildford to Farnham, known as the Hog's Back. Seale is a sheltered, secluded nook, shut in by pines. Two miles distant from it, following under the ridge towards Guildford, along an unfrequented road, comes Puttenham, owing everything, in a picturesque sense, to its solemn background of hills and woodlands. Without that scenic backing it would be nothing remarkable.
From here we bend in a south-easterly direction, away from the near companionship of the hills and woods, towards Compton, a village remarkable for its little Norman and Early English church, almost hidden from the stranger's notice by the trees that densely surround it and its unassuming shingled spire. Notice the odd dormer windows in the roof, like those of a dwelling-house. But the great peculiarity here is that the chancel is in two storeys, a most remarkable and unusual device. The exterior of the chancel is commonplace, not to say ugly, and was rebuilt in 1860, when traces of an outside staircase to the upper storey of the chancel were destroyed; but the interior remains particularly beautiful and interesting. The chancel is divided from the nave by a round-headed Norman arch, ornamented with dog-tooth moulding, and immediately over the altar rises another of exactly the same type, but of only half its height. It is this, with its groined ceiling, dividing the eastern end of the building into two floors, which makes the chancel two-storeyed. This upper chamber is conjectured to have served the double purpose of rood-loft and chantry chapel; but beyond conjecture no one has ever been able to go, for the history of the church is silent on this point.
From Compton to the entrance of Loseley Park is a mile. The gates will be seen on the left, and admit to a tree-shaded park, which might almost, from its solitude and wildness, have been the original of the legend of the Sleeping Beauty. Such is Loseley, and such the grey stone Early Elizabethan house, standing ghostlike at the end of the avenue. Loseley was begun by Sir William More in 1515, and never completed after the architect's full design. Still, it is a large and stately mansion, and contains treasures of stained glass and carvings, of armour and relics, that make it notable indeed. The "Loseley MSS." preserved here, the correspondence during nearly five hundred years of England's most famous statesmen and history-makers, is among the best of such collections.
A ramble through the park brings the traveller to a road running right and left. The turning to the right helps us toward the completion of our circle, and leads past another old mansion, Braboeuf House, to the old Portsmouth road, by St. Catherine's Hill. Here our way lies downhill, to the left, into Guildford; but, before concluding, let us ascend the easy path to the hilltop, and look down to where that elusive companion of the greater part of this tour, the river Wey, runs far below, past picturesque St. Catherine's Ferry. It is a romantic spot, this hollow on the hillside, through which runs the old highway to Portsmouth. Many years ago some long-dissolved Highway Trust lowered the road through the crest of the hill for the sake of the horses, and "St. Catherine's Hollow," as it is known, has since become the spot for a painter. Turner, indeed, painted it, but he was more concerned to show the ruined Chapel of St. Catherine beyond than to linger over the exquisite wildness and ruggedness of these overhanging banks. They are of the yellowest sand and softest sandstone, and here and there they form cliffs not so diminutive but that the sand martins have dug their tunnelled homes in them, and have found safety from attack. The face of these clifflets is as full of these nest-holes as the white cliffs of Dover are of batteries and casemates, and if you are content to wait quietly and to watch patiently, the lively inhabitants of them will be observed coming and going. Other tunnels there are here, bigger and less tidy. These are the burrows of the rabbits. There is a greater tunnel still down below – that of the South-Western Railway, between Guildford and Godalming, which collapsed suddenly one midnight in 1895, burying horses and carriages from the stables of a villa on this hilltop. Animals and carriages alike fell through into the depths beneath and were destroyed. The line was blocked for a week, and during that period this road was strangely peopled with omnibuses imported from London to convey passengers between Guildford Station and the temporary station of "St. Catherine's," built in a meadow beside the line, at the other end of the tunnel. The long-since ruined chapel of St. Catherine narrowly escaped complete demolition on that occasion; but it still stands, roofless and desecrated, as it has done for centuries past. Perhaps, in these days of restorations and revivals, it will be brought back to a decent condition of repair, even as was the hilltop chapel of St. Martha's near by. With this speculation we will make for Guildford, and the conclusion of this lengthy run.